A Brief History of 24/7 Prayer

 
 

The Tabernacle of David

King David was a man of “one thing” (Ps. 27:4). Around 1000 BC, as an outflow of his heart, he commanded that the ark of the covenant be brought up on the shoulders of the Levites amidst the sound of songs and musical instruments to his new capital, Jerusalem. There he had it placed in a tent and appointed 288 prophetic singers and 4,000 musicians to minister before the Lord, “to make petition, to give thanks and to praise the Lord” day and night (1 Chr. 15:1–17:27). This was unlike anything that had been done in Israel’s history, but it was God’s plan for Israel.

The Davidic Order of Worship

Although the tabernacle was replaced by a temple, the Davidic order of worship was embraced and reinstituted by seven subsequent leaders in the history of Israel and Judah. Each time this order of worship was reintroduced, spiritual breakthrough, deliverance, and military victory followed.

  • Solomon instructed that worship in the temple should be in accordance with the Davidic order (2 Chr. 8:14–15).
  • Jehoshaphat defeated Moab and Ammon by setting singers up in accordance with the Davidic order: singers at the front of the army singing the Great Hallel. Jehoshaphat reinstituted Davidic worship in the temple (2 Chr. 20:20–2228).
  • Joash (2 Chr. 23:1–24:27).
  • Hezekiah cleansed and reconsecrated the temple and reinstituted the Davidic order of worship (2 Chr. 29:1–3630:21).
  • Josiah reinstituted Davidic worship (2 Chr. 35:1–27).
  • Ezra and Nehemiah, returning from Babylon, reinstituted Davidic worship (Ezra 3:10Neh. 12:28–47).

Historians have also speculated that around the time of Jesus, in their search to find communion with God, the Essenes of the Judean wilderness reinstituted Davidic worship as part of their life of prayer and fasting.

Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians

Zinzendorf’s Early Years

The Reformation of the sixteenth century saw much-needed reform enter the European church, which also caused the closing of many monasteries that had become spiritually dead. The next great champion of 24/7 prayer would not appear until the start of the eighteenth century—Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf.

Zinzendorf was born in 1700 to an aristocratic but pious family. Being bereaved of his father at only six weeks old, the young boy was brought up by his grandmother, a well-known leader of the Pietist movement, and friendly with the established leader of the Pietists and young Zinzendorf’s godfather, Phillipp Spener. Growing up in the midst of such passion for Jesus, Zinzendorf spoke of his early childhood as a time of great piety: “In my fourth year I began to seek God earnestly, and determined to become a true servant of Jesus Christ.”

From the age of ten, Zinzendorf was tutored at the Pietist school of Halle under the watchful eye of Augustus Francke, another leader of the Pietists. There he formed a school club that lasted all his life, The Honourable Order of the Mustard Seed. After Zinzendorf had been in Halle for several years, his uncle considered the young count too much of a Pietist and had him sent to Wittenberg to learn jurisprudence, so that he might be prepared for court life. Soon the young count was accepted in various circles of society in Europe. He kept these connections for the rest of his life, although his position in the Dresden court and future plans for Saxon court life as Secretary of State would not be fulfilled.

The Moravians and Herrnhut

In 1722, Zinzendorf bought the Berthelsdorf estate from his grandmother and installed a Pietist preacher in the local Lutheran church. That same year Zinzendorf came into contact with a Moravian preacher, Christian David, who persuaded the young count of the sufferings of the persecuted Protestants in Moravia. These Moravians, known as the Unitas Fratrum, were the remains of John Huss’s followers in Bohemia. Since the 1600s these saints had suffered under the hands of successive repressive Catholic monarchs. Zinzendorf offered them asylum on his lands. Christian David returned to Bohemia and brought many to settle on Zinzendorf’s estate, forming the community of Herrnhut, The Watch of the Lord. The community quickly grew to around three hundred, and, due to divisions and tension in the infant community, Zinzendorf gave up his court position and became the leader of the brethren, instituting a new constitution for the community.

The Hundred-Year Prayer Meeting and Subsequent Missions

A new spirituality now characterized the community, with men and women being committed to bands, or choruses, to encourage one another in the life of God. August of 1727 is seen as the Moravian Pentecost. Zinzendorf said August 13 was “a day of the outpourings of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation; it was its Pentecost.” Within two weeks of the outpouring, twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted to pray “hourly intercessions,” thus praying every hour around the clock. They were committed to see that, “the fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out” (Lev. 6:13). The numbers committed to this endeavor soon increased to around seventy from the community. This prayer meeting would go nonstop for more than one hundred years, and is seen by many as the spiritual power behind the impact the Moravians had on the world.

From the prayer room at Herrnhut came a missionary zeal that has hardly been surpassed in church history. The spark initially came from Zinzendorf’s encounter in Denmark with Eskimos who had been converted by Lutherans. The count returned to Herrnhut and conveyed his passion to see the gospel go to the nations. As a result, many of the community went out into the world to preach the gospel, some even willing to become slaves in order to fulfill the Great Commission. This commitment is shown by a simple statistic. Typically, when it comes to world missions, the Protestant laity to missionary ratio has been 5000 to 1. The Moravians, however, saw a much increased ratio of 60 to 1. By 1776, some 226 missionaries had been sent out from the community at Herrnhut. It is clear through the teaching of the so-called father of modern missions, William Carey, that the Moravians had a profound impact on him in regard to their zeal for missionary activity. It is also through the missions-minded Moravians that John Wesley came to faith. The impact of this little community in Saxony, which committed to seek the face of the Lord day and night, has truly been immeasurable.

24/7 Prayer in the Twentieth Century

In 1973, David Yonggi Cho, Pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea, established Prayer Mountain with night-and-day prayer. Prayer Mountain was soon attracting over a million visitors per year, as people would spend retreats in the prayer cells provided on the mountain. Cho had a commitment to continuous prayer, to faith, and to establishing small discipleship cells in his church. Perhaps as a result, Cho’s church rapidly expanded to become the largest church congregation on the globe, with membership now over 780,000.

On September 19, 1999, the International House of Prayer of Kansas City, Missouri, started a worship-based prayer meeting, which has continued for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week ever since. With a similar vision to Zinzendorf, that the fire on the altar should never go out, there has never been a time when worship and prayer has not ascended to heaven since that date.

At the same time, in many other places around the world, God placed desires and plans for 24/7 prayer in the fabric of diverse ministries and in the hearts of leaders. This has resulted in 24/7 houses of prayer and prayer mountains being established in every continent of the earth.